10 Commandments for Childhood Friendships

My granddaughter is in 5th grade now.

I remember 5th grade was hard. Every day on the playground, girls who were friends the day before had “unfriended” their bestie and had a new BFF. It was a minefield of competition and uncertainty!

While middle school was hard, and junior high was miserable, I had figured out how to get along with most people by high school, and let go of those who just weren’t interested. I learned to be okay with myself. Confidence over the years helped me become a better friend and also make wiser choices when selecting friends. I’m in the process of teaching what I’ve learned to my granddaughter as she navigates the rough terrain of emotions, dealing with conflict between friends.

The following are 10 Commandments for Childhood Friendships. Though these are not in order of importance, they make a good standard for relationships at any age.

1. Do not assume your friend is unhappy with you, just because they want to spend time with someone else. When they call again, don’t even bring it up! Holding on too tightly to people can become uncomfortable, and giving your friend the freedom to be alone or spend time with another friend will make you all the more welcome, later.

2. Be a caring listener, not just a talker. Friends that last are those who show interest in others, and don’t only want to talk about themselves.

3. When you disagree or feel hurt, don’t make it personal. Present your concern as an objective thing you can work on together. Assume your friend didn’t mean to be hateful. The Bible says,  “love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails,” and “a friend loves at all times.” Words like, “You never…” or “You always” are both harmful and untrue. It is fine to say, “I felt sad when you said/did that.”

4. It’s probably best not to borrow things that are special to your friend. But if you lose or ruin it, replace it or make amends. Don’t make excuses, just apologize.

5. Never talk about a friend’s weaknesses or tell their secrets to someone else. When you are away from your friend, talk about their strengths and things you enjoy about them.

6. Work out problems before they become too big. Don’t let lies complicate matters, either.

7. Be the kind of friend you would want to have.

8. When they visit your house, they are your guest. Find out what your friend wants to do and spend at least part of the time doing that!

9. Respect other people’s things. Treat them with value and don’t use anything without asking.

Economic Life Lessons For Kids

10. Be encouraging! Tell your friend what they mean to you, and what you appreciate about them.

I’m finding I need to be patient in training and not assume one correction will be sufficient! Our human nature can be so petty, but we have to overcome it. Kindness becomes a habit over time, with practice. The effort taken now will pay off in the end.

Is God Really Good?

Is God good? If so, why is there evil in the world?

The saying “God is in control” quoted after a tragedy caused by human sin, has become so common that I don’t think most people ever question it. The absolute control of God seems intrinsically tied to His being God. But this supposed axiom does bring God’s goodness, into question. The problem of evil lies in direct opposition to the very nature of God and gives atheists room to challenge us on God’s character. Looking at it logically, here is what the unbeliever’s argument for the problem of evil looks like.

(A priori assumption: Christianity claims God is perfectly good and absolutely powerful.)

The Argument:
1. If God is perfectly good, then He is always willing to prevent evil
and If God is infinitely powerful, then he is always able to prevent evil.

2. But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).

Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfect.

The conclusion drawn by the unbeliever is, the God of Christianity doesn’t exist!  This is a valid argument, logically. There is nothing wrong with the form. For a logically valid argument (Constructive Dilemma) to be in error, there must be a false premise somewhere.

Whatever our opinions are, they should come second to what God says about Himself. Some things to consider:

Is God honest about His will, or has He been deceptive – saying the opposite of what He means to those who seek to follow Him? Does God have absolute control at all times, or has He delegated to men and to angels, power that is genuine? Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises their deeds and would never command such a thing?

I will address the Constructive Dilemma first.

If God is perfectly good”… This claim is substantiated in Scripture.
1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.”

Hebrews 6:18 “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.”

Proverbs 15:9 “The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.”

James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

“then He would always be willing to prevent evil.” This part is more tricky and it’s where the atheists gain the most ground. Does goodness of God necessarily mean He must intervene whenever His creation is about to go off course? Does God indicate that His will manipulates the will of mankind in every case – or does His word indicate man is given authority and responsibility for his own actions? Is volition a greater good, so that mankind can grow and learn – just as children do in a household – from their own mistakes?

The assumption that God must morally intervene is based on a view that interference is the highest good. We know God is able to influence or turn man’s heart or intervene – but does He always do so?

Deut. 30:19 “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Gal. 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

Hosea 10:12 “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”

(If we refuse the offered mercy of God – He lets us alone, to our undoing.)

Romans 1:18-24The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”

In a few cases, the evil that men do falls into God’s bigger plan, though He never needed to compel them to sin. Corrupt men are in plentiful supply, and have been used by God to discipline other nations or maneuver His people into place.  It cannot be said that God tempted them to do evil, but that He knowingly let them go in the direction their hearts would take them, and brought good out of it.

The next conditional begins with:

If God is infinitely powerful …

God is awesomely powerful. I will attempt to show through Scripture that though there was a time, in the beginning, when God retained all power and authority for Himself and there will be a time again when all powers and authorities will be given back, He has actually delegated powers and authorities. This delegated power is real, and not in name only.There is some power God does not retain for Himself at present. He has done this, by His sovereign choice. Those who retain this delegated power may abuse it. These powers are not absolute, but limited, by God. Whether they have done wisely or not, they will all have to give an account for what they have done with their power and authority.

DELEGATED AUTHORITIES

Angels

Daniel 12:1-3  “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Eph. 3:10 “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

The Church

1Cor. 6:3-4 “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?”

Heb. 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The Government (Rule of Law)
Romans 13:1-7 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Parents and Masters/employers.

Ephesians 6:1-8  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—  “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Servants, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,  because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do…”

Husbands and Wives (authority structure with mutual respect)

Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.


*
An argument could be made that Adam’s authority to have dominion over the earth was handed over to Satan, by him. Satan is called the “god of this world” in Scripture, and Jesus didn’t deny that Satan’s offer of the kingdoms of the earth was legitimate … but that is not within the scope of this argument, so we’ll give the devil his due, another day.

All delegated authorities will give an account someday to God. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

The last part of the second conditional is that God is able to prevent evil.

Argument: IF God has really delegated power and authority, then to prevent every evil deed would be mean He had not really delegated this power.

Question: So can man limit God by His disbelief and disobedience?

Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

Matt. 23:37 (Jesus speaking) Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets, and stone those who are sent to you! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Isaiah 65:2-3 “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. A people who continually provoke Me to My face…”


As to the second part of the constructive dilemma:

“But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).
Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfectly good.”

By the previous verses (and there are others I could bring if needed), I have given evidence that God is not always willing to interfere, even when what is done is against His expressed will. Evil DOES exist because God condemns certain behaviors as evil.

He is not willing to remove the blessing of freedom from His creation, just to have His way at all times. He loved us enough and honored us enough to allow us choice. The choice is real and throughout Scripture, God tells us to choose wisely. We will have to answer to Him for our stewardship of this gift, but it is a gift, nonetheless.

But at this point, I must bring a clarification. Some will say that God made everything, so He must have made evil, too. They may quote the book of Job which says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

So, isn’t this a contradiction to my proof?

No, it isn’t.

Evil (meaning wickedness) never comes from God. In Him there is no darkness, no sin, no shadow of turning from His holy nature. But, evil (in the King James version), may also be translated – catastrophe or disaster. Not all disasters are “an act of God,” specifically. Some are just a result of a fallen world and will be so until Jesus returns and reboots nature. But when God brings a disaster in judgment, it is because of His holiness. It is right and just for Him to condemn those who are evil and unrepentant and to bless those who are good, forgiving the sins of those who turn from them (Ezekiel 18).

Scripture indicates that evil appeared when free will creatures made a decision to turn from God. Ezekiel 28:11-17, is a parable about the King of Tyre compares him to Satan. In this passage, we can see how the devil became an evil being.

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.

So we can see that the devil was perfect in all his ways until the day sin was found in him.

According to Genesis 1, when God had completed all His creation, He called it very good. Evil, then, had to come about after this point.

It is likely that Satan fell from his high position at the time he tempted Adam and Eve. The curses God made on those who had sinned in Genesis 3, include a curse for the “snake” that had tempted Eve.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Gen. 3:15 This is a prophecy indicating that Satan would give a lot of trouble to mankind and in the end, Jesus would destroy the power of the devil, though he would be wounded in doing so.

So is God good? Yes, absolutely. Is God infinitely powerful? Not at present – because He has delegated some power. He is not willing to prevent the consequences of our actions, because we do learn from them, and consequences are important for justice, as well. Evil exists, and it is not God’s doing that it does. Not everything we consider evil, is really evil – since we cannot see as God does. Wickedness is evident, but disaster and suffering may have a purpose. After all, look at the suffering of Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate picture of the evil men do, and the suffering of an innocent, bringing about the greatest good. In these things, we can trust God – who knows a lot more about it than we do. We can be sure that He is constant in His nature. He is good. He is loving, but He is just and will not be mocked. Therefore, it is appropriate to honor and love and yes, even fear Him – but this is our choice. God will not force love. In fact, love cannot be forced.

As all other questions are answered, I’ll address the final two.

1. Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises and would never command such a thing? The Scripture is FULL of admonition to repent of evil and do good, and declares continually God’s anger at wickedness.

Jeremiah 32:35 “They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

While this section could go on for practically the length of the Bible, I’ll just add The Ten Commandments as an example. He has given a standard of morality that shows His own holiness.

2. Doesn’t He say, instead, that He is able to USE whatever happens, to His glory?
In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul says, “All things work together for the glory of God.”

When He rewards righteousness, God is glorified.
When people repent and God forgives them, His mercy is shown, and He is revered.
When people will not repent and cause great harm, and God brings justice, He is glorified as just.

The “problem of evil” in the world, is not really a problem after all.

And because “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” He does not always get His way.

And yet, His will IS that we choose. Free will is the greater good, with a risk, because love must be free. His ultimate redemptive will is accomplished. And for those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) all things work together for our good. Even the bad things. He who began a good work in us is faithful, and He will complete it. God is good, all the time!

A Novel Idea: Constructing the Plot

The PLOT or storyline is a series of events in the order they happen for the reader. “Hook” your reader’s interest by giving them just enough information at first. They will read on because they need to know what will happen next. Tease them from time to time with another complication that must be dealt with or an unanswered question that is a necessary part of the puzzle. Pieces of the puzzle will include both events as they occur and flashbacks to the past.


As a new writer mapping out a plan for your story, it may help think back on memories that stand out in your own life. Use an event you have experienced yourself for the basis of your tale. This will give your story authenticity. Of course, you may change the time, setting, character names and ages, position, etc., to make it a work of fiction. Even as a fictional character, you may write as the narrator, exclusively from your point of view. If you choose to write in the third person and develop motives of other characters, you will need to *step back* from the limits of your own perspective and become empathetic. How would you feel if you were in their shoes, with their background experience? Why do they act as they do? What drives them?

Begin your story in the middle of a problem or impending problem. Craft the structure based on genre. The reader will identify most closely with the hero as they face an obstacle and seek to overcome it. The action rises and falls throughout the tale but the intensity should build to the climax of the story. At that point, the main character achieves their goal and all unresolved matters are satisfied. In the end, all the pieces should make sense, as the pieces of a puzzle coming together create a whole picture!


There are two ways I used to construct a story. One is outlining and the other is Plot Mapping. If a story is linear and the end is understood when the writer begins, an outline works well. You have your character facing a problem, the building difficulties, the moment of salvation and resolution. However, if you have an idea for a story and it’s characters but don’t know how it will end yet, you need to build a plot map. Have you ever watched a detective story where either the criminal or the cop has a bulletin board with photos and newspaper clippings on it, with threads connecting various parts to each other? This is a great way to get the big picture of all the back stories and how they fit together. As I’ve said in a past chapter, at first, keep it to three or four main characters as far as detail goes. But the plot at first can look a bit confusing to the reader, like pieces of tangled thread. As the story progresses, the threads need to connect and make sense. It the end all threads tie together in one conclusion. If you physically do this, with a storyboard, you can keep track of the threads you have yet to connect. This is one way you can think through the process of the unwinding tale as you write it.

One note of caution. Writers that begin a tale not knowing where it will take them often have to rewrite whole sections. JRR Tolkien did this when writing The Lord of the Rings. It is time-consuming! This may be daunting to a beginner, but it is a great exercise. Still, for someone just starting out with story writing, it will be easier to take the perspective of one of the main characters and narrate from your point of view. It will be easier to keep track of the plot and remain consistent, “keeping in character.”

A great way to practice plot development is to base it on a well-known story, such as a parable, fable, or other classic tale. Keep the characters and setting but change the starting point or the story the direction takes. You could also write from a different character’s viewpoint. This kind of parody has been successfully done in recent years in “Wicked,” a Broadway play. It is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (from the Wizard of Oz), telling her own story.  Also, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as Told by the Wolf” is a best-selling children’s story! Because these stories are loved and familiar, the new perspective lends itself well to humor.

After rewriting some well-known stories, you will have a better feel for how the plot unfolds. The longer the story is, the more complicated it can be. If you are writing a short story, you’ll want to limit the problems your hero has to one or two. Difficulties from without (a bad circumstance or impending danger) can be overcome at the same time as your hero faces inner flaws (such as insecurity or a bad temper) and rises above them! Struggle with them. Rejoice with them. The more you let the reader see their hero overcome character flaws that they wrestle with, the more your story will resonate. These are some of the “universal truths” I mentioned previously.

In Summary:

– Outline your story.
– Introduce the problem within the first page.
-Resolve the problem bit by bit, with some drawbacks along the way, to increase tension and keep the reader turning pages.
– Make the moment of salvation from their problem definitive and satisfying.
– End the story shortly after the pinnacle of victory by resolving all unanswered questions.


As you prepare to write it helps to read stories that delight you, and take note of how they develop their plot. What is the problem at the beginning? How did the writer “hook” your attention? How did they bring all the problems to a climax and save the main character? How are the loose ends tied up?

Be assured that while there are guidelines for writing an effective story, these are not hard and fast rules. Creative writing is called that for a reason. Just keep your audience in mind and be sure to bring them out of confusion to understanding by the end of the story. They will be coming back for more!

A Novel Idea – Crafting Characters

In your own life, you play the main character. Probably the hero.

One mistake young writers often make, is introducing too many characters without developing their background or reasons why they do what they do. We can only closely follow a few people’s lives closely, without losing track of who we are talking about. So, it’s best to keep main characters at three or four. Have others come and go from the scenes as supporting cast – without extensive detail about them. In fact, some of the people in the background don’t even need names.

Of our few main characters, the most likely candidates are:

1. The Protagonist.
This is our hero or heroine. The protagonist is facing a problem as the story opens, and we root for them as they struggle to overcome it! We will need to know the personality, the background, the motives, strengths, and weaknesses of this main character.

2. The Antagonist. The antagonist can either be another person (in which case, he/she is the villain), an organization, an inner fear or hatred that must be overcome, or some other obstacle standing in the way of the protagonist. Depending on the sort of problem you choose for your story, the Antagonist may have motives or not. But, if not an inanimate object, the antagonist needs to be understood.

3. The Side-Kick
This character can be helping the protagonist or the villain. He/she will bring either wisdom and assistance to the hero, or make the main character’s efforts more difficult. This role is often a catalyst, not directly but indirectly causing things to occur. In the role of assistant, the side-kick can be a lovable but bumbling idiot or a quiet genius. The side-kick should not steal the spotlight from the main characters but is just as important in their role.

4. The Love Interest
This character could be the problem to overcome such as when both the hero and villain love the same person. This could also be the side-kick to one of them. Whether you use this character depends on the genre of your story.

Your plot will determine how you develop characters. Once you decide on the type of story you want to tell, your characters need to be the kind of people that will make this story happen. Their personalities can be crafted to bring about the behaviors you want in the plot.

So, choose your plot first, before designing your characters.

Once your plot is outlined, create character sketches for each of the main characters.

In your own life, you play the main character. Probably the hero. Those who step in and out of your world are either assisting in your quest or hindering you. Some come and go without much influence. But a few people in your life have a huge impact. The first stories we write often have a bit of autobiography in them. But it is important when you write a fictional story, not to retell real-life incidents too closely or use real names. That can get you into trouble! We will discuss plot more in the next chapter and address how to safely navigate this aspect.

The character sketch for your hero, villain, sidekick or love interest will include:

Full name
Age as the story begins
Era of time they lived
Family members?
Personality traits
Talents
Weaknesses
Odd habits or mannerisms
Country of origin
Accent or manner of speaking
Who do they love/hate?
What drives them to do what they do (background for motivation).

Nobody can know everything about another person, but if you are writing about the main character in the first person… using the personal pronouns of “I” or “me” when referring to the hero/heroine, you will have full knowledge of their thoughts and motivations. So, the reader will too. You will not be able to know the inner thoughts of those around you. You want your reader to believe your character is a real person and real people don’t read minds. Of course, unless your hero happens to have this superpower… then, it’s fine.

You will want to make something about your main character, very relatable to your audience. They should find things in common with themselves, or someone they know. However, there can be aspects that are quite different or extreme. An odd habit can bring comedy to your story. A personality trait can go to an extreme, making your character more dangerous or vulnerable, raising tension or anticipation as the story unfolds. Whatever you decide, be consistent throughout the story, unless the obstacle to be overcome changes this aspect of who they are.

Next time, we’ll discuss PLOT! The driving force behind the story.

 

Who Am I Writing For?

 Some compromises are just not worth taking.

In the 1990’s I began writing children’s books. At the time, I was acting President of the North East Mississippi Writer’s Forum and had access to lots of professional advice and knew a few publishers. One children’s book publisher, who also happened to be a Christian, was interested in a new story I’d written, called “The Tattle Snake.” She asked to hold it for 6 months to consider it. As she was a brand new publisher, she wanted to be sure that the first books she published were going to do well in the marketplace.

Since this was a book I had both written and illustrated, I had high hopes for its publication. After six months passed we met over coffee. She told me that she still loved the book but wanted me to make a few changes. I had mentioned “Creator” in the story, and she thought it would be more marketable – I would have a wider audience – if I took out reference to God. She also didn’t like the way I chose to portray my characters.  “Kids won’t want to read a story about snakes,” she said. “What about using something friendlier, like rabbits?”  I was crestfallen. She was suggesting I rip the heart and soul out of my book and start over. The purpose of my story was to show the foolish tendencies of siblings to battle for position and treat one another as enemies. The entire story was told in rhyme using the S-sound to mimic the snakes. Since the Creator’s words resolved the problem, there was no way I could remove the reference. Nor, did I want to.

I wasn’t writing this book to become wealthy. I was writing it to instruct young minds in an engaging way and to honor God in the process. The story was filled with truth, and it needed to stay that way. That afternoon I made a decision to begin self-publishing. I’d also heard that children’s book authors rarely get to select their own artist or draw their own illustrations. Since my daughter loved to illustrate, this would also give her an opportunity. Thus began “Carrot Patch Productions” (named after ). “The Tattle Snake” was the first of three stories that I’ve self-published. I still have three more that need to go to press, including “Once Upon A Carrot Patch.”

Who do I write for? I write for the Lord, and I write for children. As one who was foolish, I wanted to share the wisdom that I had discovered. As one who was lost, I wanted to give direction that I had found. Sometimes, I write articles for their parents. My heart’s desire is to teach and encourage through my writing, to the glory of God and the building up of the saints. It may be that some of my work has an appeal to a wider market, but I don’t care if it does or not.  Some compromises are just not worth taking. For me, self-publishing wasn’t about vanity (some call this vanity-publishing). It wasn’t about making a lot of money. If someone couldn’t afford the book, I gave it to them. The Lord is my supply and money is a small issue compared to the great treasure of influencing a generation for good. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart give Him glory and bless many. It is my hope that my blogging and future video and downloadable products will do just that!

A Novel Idea – Setting

Books written in the 19th and early 20th Century often had extensive description of setting at the beginning of the story, sometimes before the plot was introduced. Today’s readers tend to leave such tomes on dusty shelves, instead choosing novels and short stories of all genres that blend description seamlessly into the unfolding of the story.  The “hook” that engages a reader will not be the way a pond looks early in the morning from the front porch. So, don’t waste your first page on it.

However, setting is still just as important as it was to the 19th Century reader. Before weaving the tale, the writer needs to understand the place it happens, the age and culture. Time of day and weather will also add dimension to the story. It may be helpful to map out the plot with setting details. Storyboarding is a good technique for this as it will help you “see” the story before actually writing it.

Storyboarding is a bit like creating a comic strip, with the general outline of events. It shows mood and environment. It is difficult to say which should come first, setting, character, or plot. You have to have a bit of an idea about all three to proceed very far. As you are writing, you may wish to change one aspect and rewrite it, to make sense of your story. Stories do evolve in the writing, so don’t be afraid of that! But we need to begin somewhere.

Is your story a mystery or horror story? The setting should reflect the mood you want to create. Perhaps a deserted house, a dark woods or deep pond with strange noises coming from it. Things are out of place or not as they should be. Show the reader what seems wrong instead of telling them something seems wrong, using your descriptions and the character’s reaction (widened eyes or turning suddenly pale, etc.). Use changes in the setting to build suspense and set the mood for what is coming. Sometimes a tense setting can lead to comic relief if you find the thing you feared was really a cat whose head got stuck in a can and is bumping into the wall.

Perhaps you want to set your story for a romance or adventure. The setting will create an expectation from the reader, building the mood. Like violins in an orchestra, the setting will not draw attention to itself, distracting from the story, but support the whole by giving fullness and support to the players.  It is important to note that the actual time and place do not have to be mentioned in the first paragraphs of the story. We can meet the main character first and discover his problem, then find as he begins his journey, whether he is poor or rich, in his hometown or traveling abroad, and what era he lives in. These details can be mentioned in passing to help create the picture in the reader’s eye.

“Show me don’t tell me.”  You will often hear this quote used in creative writing instruction, and rightly so.  “It began to rain hard.” only tells me the weather.

Take the rain experience through your five senses. What does it sound like? Is it like the erratic tapping of fingers on the table or a soft rhythmic drumming that soothes you to sleep?  Does it smell like clean grass or does the dampness bring out the smell of old books (musty)? Is it washing away dirt or creating mud? Does the rain surprise you with a cold smack on the face or perhaps it’s a welcome, cool mist after a heated argument – as you breathe in peace and sweet silence?  Maybe it whips against you driving you to the next destination of the story, or causes you to pull over on the road, after nearly hitting another car.  Here is an example of adding setting to action, and showing instead of telling.

      “I can’t see!” she cried as the semi passed –  too close – spraying her overworked wipers with another wave. Marilyn gripped the wheel tightly, heart pounding with the torrent as her tires lifted from the pavement, sliding toward the ditch.

Look through some of your favorite stories. How do they use setting to set a mood? How does it enhance the action or bring out another aspect of the character’s personality?

What if you could change the setting of a familiar story? Would it necessarily change the actions of the characters? It certainly could! Some characters do not fit easily into certain settings. It is possible, though. Sherlock Holmes seems to belong in an atmosphere of tension and suspense, in London, England. But what if he was at a children’s party with clowns? That could actually be quite terrifying to a man who seems so in control, all the time.

What if Hansel and Gretel lived in Maine, by the ocean and ran away to sea instead of into the woods? Why not try to experiment with a story you know well, and play with the setting. The possibilities are endless!

When thinking about setting, answer the following questions, not just for the beginning of the story, but each “scene.”

1. What era does this take place?
2. What time of year?
3. What is the exact location?
4. Time of day – or range of times.
5. Economic/status situation the character finds himself/herself in.
6. Weather conditions
7. Is this scene happening now, or is it a flashback? (Since flashbacks are a memory, it will only contain the images seen by the character having it. It may have a different perspective than someone else who was also there.)

In my next post, I’ll deal with the creation of main and supporting characters.

A Novel Idea – Genre

What Is Genre?
It’s a category.  In stories, they would be broken down into the type of story. Here are some examples:

1. Mystery – Something is out of place. A crime has been committed. A person is missing. A character or object suspiciously appears. Someone is not who they appear to be! Whatever the source of the mystery, it is a problem requiring detective work. The main character/hero/protagonist will be the detective and look for clues, interview suspects, and search until the answer is discovered.

To keep the sense of mystery, don’t tell the reader what is happening behind the scenes. Let them discover clues along with the main character. To keep your readers wondering and turning pages, use misdirection. Bring in something or someone who seems important but isn’t. Or someone who seems guiltier than they are! Your reader will sometimes guess correctly, sometimes be surprised, but they will be intrigued by the process. These false leads, or misdirection, are called “red herrings.” That term comes from when hunters would train dogs to follow a trail. They dragged herrings (fish) across the fox trail to teach hunting dogs not to be distracted by other interesting scents, but to keep pursuing the fox! Your reader doesn’t know which trail is the right one, so they are kept guessing!

Plot twists are a great tool for mystery writing. You were sure the story was going in a certain direction and suddenly, a new piece of information comes to light. What you suspected is proven to be impossible. Maybe your reader isn’t back to square one, but their curiosity is refueled! In the end, a good explanation of “who done it” finally comes out, and the pieces of the puzzle fall together.

You can go back to your draft and insert little clues that may help the detective, once you have figured out the end. Rewrites are as important as the first writing, and maybe more so! As you write your first draft, you are just thinking it through. Changes and modifications will bring your story together when you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you.

Don’t make your clues too obvious, or give too much information early on. To keep a mystery a page-turner, let every chapter bring a new question that must be answered. You will want to “map out” your plot in advance of writing the story. There are way too many details in a good mystery to try to keep them all in your head while you write. Because it’s important that all loose ends are neatly tied up by the conclusion, you’ll need to be able to see what threads you’ve left for the reader. Before your final copy goes to the presses, be sure there are no questions left unanswered.

2. The Narrative may relate a personal story or be told as a biography of a real or fictional character. This can be as simple as what happened on a walk home from the park, afternoon tea with Grandma, or an adventure. It can take place in a police station or courtroom, a living room or a hospital emergency room; anywhere. This genre has many subcategories.

a. One is a “Coming-of-Age” story, where the protagonist goes from childhood to maturity through life experiences and lessons. It often involves overcoming a weakness from within that is reflected in a change in their character. Overcoming may take the form of learning to be compassionate to others, bravery in the face of fear, or finding that through hard work they can achieve what seemed impossible. There may be external victories but the key achievements in a coming-of-age book are the ones that happen in the heart of the main character.

b. Fables often have animals playing the part of humans. These are usually quite short and have a point that is obvious.  Aesop is famous for these! Rudyard Kipling also used this method in his Just-So-Stories.

c. Parables use an illustration from life, even of inanimate objects, to teach a meaningful lesson. Jesus used these story-illustrations frequently, in the Bible. One example is the Prodigal Son. The young son didn’t want to submit to his father but wished to make his own way in the world. He left home with his inheritance and lived a wild life, wasting all his money. He ended up homeless and starving before coming to his senses. When the prodigal returned to his father to beg forgiveness he was welcomed home with open arms! This parable shows how we often make foolish choices, but that God, our Father is always waiting for our return, willing to forgive us.

d. Allegories are stories that can be interpreted to find a hidden meaning. Examples of allegory are: “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” by John Bunyan which is an allegory of the Christian’s journey to salvation, and “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis.

e. Satire is a type of allegory, but according to the dictionary, uses humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity, vices, or show corruption in government. An example of satire in literature is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Animal Farm by George Orwell.

f.  Parody is another subgroup of the narrative genre that could be allegorical or a fable. Parody takes something that was already written and changes the story around for comedic effect. An example of this would be Shakespeare’s supposed version of The Three Little Pigs, as told by comedian, John Branyan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxoUUbMii7Q

3. Historical Fiction. While it could be argued that this is also a kind of narrative, it requires much more research to do. You will need to understand the times you write about. Your characters will need to act in accordance with the culture and speak as they would have in that time and place. Clothing, speech, and custom need to be consistent unless you have time travelers involved. Until you have familiarized yourself with the time, place of your story, and customs of that era, you probably shouldn’t write a piece of historical fiction.

4. Science Fiction and Fantasy can also be a mystery, coming of age story, romance, or action-adventure tale. Because Science Fiction or Fantasy go beyond reality, into different times and worlds, it is all the more important to create an emotional bond and common ideals with the characters. If the personalities of the main characters are too foreign, the story will not be relatable. If the players in your tale have personalities or issues that your reader can identify with, your audience will be able to suspend their disbelief at the peculiar circumstances and surroundings. Just remember to be consistent. As they say in theater, “keep in character.” The difficulty in these genres is creating a believable alternate world. It may involve studying science and technology or other ancient cultures and languages for inspiration. JRR Tolkien, who created entire worlds and new languages, was an expert in ancient language. In order to prepare for such writing, begin by reading books of the same genre to get a feel for what is needed. It is important not to copy someone else’s world too closely, so take notes of new ideas you come up with while reading. You can practice by writing shorter scenes and illustrating them. As you “see” your world unfold you can add more detail in the rewrite and add chapters.

In each of these, stories that create an impact and resonate with the audience contain universal truths. Hidden in the best stories, these gems are not expressed blatantly. The reader comes to realize these things, as if on their own. Allowing the reader to find the truth for themselves without preaching to them, has a greater impact. Universal truths will be evident in the plot and conclusion of the story. Look for themes that many can identify with. Examples are: Pain of rejection, hope, loss, desire to win and tenacity, overcoming, love returned and love unrequited, curiosity and fear – getting yourself in too deep and wondering how you’ll get yourself out again. Write from what you know and have experienced. It’s okay to weep over your writing or get angry at the characters as they play out. Laugh along with them, too! As Hemingway said, “Write one true thing.”

A Novel Idea – Introduction to Creative Writing

As we begin, we meet in the middle.

Have you thought about writing a book or short story? Stories represent a snippet of life taken from the most interesting or meaningful moments. But if you have ever tried to sit down to write “the Great American Novel,” or a short story and found yourself staring at an empty page, not knowing how to begin, try beginning in the middle. Something devastating or exciting has just occurred or is happening as we meet our hero. In the modern story, the reader needs to be drawn in by the first page, or you have lost them. So, compel them to continue!

Each character we meet has a past. As we meet them, we don’t know what that is yet or what motivates them to behave as they do. Learning about the heart and mind of your characters is part of what drives the story.  Besides their individual histories, the situation they find themselves in when the tale begins is the hook, line, and sinker to reel in your audience.  A crisis or difficulty presents itself that they must overcome. The crisis may be internal or external. The enemy might be a force from without, or “inner demons.” As the plot unwinds we discover these personalities as they interact to either cause trouble or overcome it.

The best stories are described well by sidekick, Sam Gamgee, in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers.  “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”

What elements do we need to create such a story? Below is a brief overview of the essential ingredients in a great tale. Each will be covered at length, in future posts.

1.  Genre
The genre ( the type of story) you choose to write will greatly influence your setting, your plot and your character development. Will you choose historical or science fiction, action, drama, or mystery?  And as a subset of those, will it be a romance, a coming-of-age story, or an epic, heroic tale? There are more choices than these, of course – but it should get you thinking about how you want to relate your story. Once you decide the genre, you will need to determine the “voice.”  Will you speak as a narrator who sees all and knows all, or as one of the people in the story – telling your own tale? Will you speak objectively in the third person about something that happened to others or tells the tale as it is happening (present tense) or as a series of past events? Try each of these and see which may fit better for your purposes.

2.  Setting
This includes not only the location and a description of our opening scene, but the year/month/time of day, atmosphere (not merely weather but mood), and the economic, political and social situation the character finds themselves in when the story begins.

3.  Plot
The sequence of events in our tale is what makes the plot – which is not necessarily chronological. As the story unfolds it may revert to a back-story about a particular character somewhere along the narrative to give us greater understanding or context. The plot includes the situation the character finds themselves in, their problem, and the steps they take to resolve it. The plot has a beginning, a middle and an end. The plot of the story may be over a period of hours, days or years. Of course, the more pages you write, the more detail you can have to your plot and the more time you can easily cover. But a greater number of words do not necessarily make a better tale. As Mary Poppins used to say, “Enough is as good as a feast.” We do not want to become tiresome in the telling! The pace of the story and need for detail will depend in part on the genre.

THE PLOT involves:
a. The Problem
b. The Plan to overcome the problem
c. The Predicament: Things get worse before they get better.
d. The Pinnacle: The problem is overcome!
e. The Peaceful Resolution – a satisfactory tying up of loose ends (unless of course, you are writing a sequel).

Each of these aspects will be examined in detail in a future post.

4. Character Development
We must care enough about our main character to be rooting for them throughout the story and cheer for them as they overcome their struggle! Creating a realistic character involves a working knowledge of them – as if they were real people to you. They can be based on living people that you know or have heard about, or you may make them up entirely from your imagination, or even create a new character as a mixture of aspects of a few people. Characters can even be elements that are not physical. Inner “voices,” memories of people that are no longer around or internal fears can become as much of a character as one represented with a name. “Tell-Tale Heart,” a short story by Edgar Alan Poe, is a good example of this. Because the story is a horror tale, the ending is not a happy one and the voice that haunts the main character defeats him in the end.

Each aspect of the character needs to be explored. This is done by creating character sketches, which will be explained in a future post.

5. Dialogue
Conversations may be within the heart of the main character or between two or more individuals. You may also choose to speak directly to the reader of your story. Whatever you decide to do, you must be consistent throughout. The setting, the culture, the age, and the genre will all affect how characters speak to one another. More details and options on how to do this effectively will follow.

6. Theme
This is optional. Not all stories have a message but all stories come from a certain world-view. The theme is a deeper truth that is relayed through the telling of the story. Stories can have a world-changing effect, convincing the reader or even a nation, to change their beliefs or behaviors. The abolitionist movement during the Civil War was spurred on by a little book called, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  Have you ever read a book that profoundly influenced what you thought about a subject or changed your life? The great books will move our hearts and the best ones change us forever, for the better. What books have most influenced you? What kind of influence would you like to have on the world, through your writing?

There is no better time to begin!

Economic Life Lessons For Kids

While math concepts may seem obscure, kids have no trouble understanding money; at least the spending part! The more difficult concept is the true value of money. Each dollar spent represents someone’s work and time invested in what was purchased.

So, how can we teach kids to appreciate the value of money? From a very early age, we can begin by not automatically replacing what gets broken through carelessness. The child should work to earn its replacement. Though this is a hard lesson, it is best learned early.  If they break something of someone else’s, they should work to earn the replacement item, without receiving any other compensation. This will teach them respect for personal property.

Private Property 

In order to be consistent with this, children must be allowed to keep treasured items (such as a new birthday present or special toy) only for themselves. If forced to share, the lesson of private property’s value is undermined. Sharing only really counts when it is from the heart anyway. Doing so always brings a risk.

The Scriptural lesson, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” means that we need to honor their things as we hope they will honor ours.  But will children ever learn to share this way?

As they see our example of generosity in giving and of sharing our things with them and with our friends and taking a risk that the item may not be returned or may be broken – we can also teach that a heart of love will share, not expecting anything in return. This is what love does. However, you cannot force love. For our part, we will always either return what was borrowed or replace it, because it is the right thing and the loving thing for us to do. Leading by example is much better than forcing them to share their things and possibly causing the opposite effect than you desire.

Thankfulness for gifts and for opportunities to earn money should be taught very early. Seeing the world through eyes of gratitude can transform the character of a child. Our example of gratitude both to God and to others that bless us can guide them.  “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.”   1Thessalonians 5:18.

 

Earning Opportunities for “Wants”

Chores do build character, and some should be done without pay. Certainly, those that have to do with the child maintaining their own room and hygiene should be. But if they work for someone else, you have the option of giving them some income from it. If they have a wish list, they can begin a savings account and watch the balance grow toward their short-term goals. It’s best to start with shorter term goals so they can have the satisfaction of seeing them achieved. It will inspire savings again. As they get older, they can handle longer term goals.

Entrepreneurship

Finally, they can start up a small business of their own. Our homeschool group has had “market days,” where the kids bring in crafts and creations and baked goods they make, to sell. Everyone brings their spare change or dollars to take turns seeing what all their friends have made!  Lemonade stands, mowing lawns, pet care, babysitting or housecleaning for a neighbor – are all good early jobs for kids. Encourage them to track their expenses as well as their income, to see what the profits are. How can they improve the profit? Advertise? Cut costs? Improve the quality of their product so more will sell?  All these questions help children to understand the value of money and see how time is exchanged for it.

Allowance or Stewardship?  

I don’t like the idea of allowances. Many people do give them, but to me, it smacks of entitlement. If you do delegate a responsibility that requires funds, that is different. A stewardship is something that will need to be accounted for later and brings good lessons with it. If your child is able to do what has been asked of them with the money provided and has some left over (because of wise choices – not from purchasing low-quality things), they may be allowed to keep it as a reward for a job well done. Handing over some household management in purchasing (as they are getting a bit older) is also a great way to help them develop confidence. Stewardship is a Biblical concept that can be reinforced through this practice. We are given much by our Heavenly Father to manage here. When we do well, He will say “well done,” and reward us. We can be imitators of Him in this way too, as we train our own children.

5 Things A Parent Should Never Say

It doesn’t matter how old we get, the words of our parents carry a lot of weight. The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, said: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Prov. 18:21  Our words can build a child up with hope for the future, or destroy their spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul said that love believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never fails.  We are entrusted with these little ones for a short time and someday will have to stand before our own Father in Heaven who entrusted them to us. How will we fare, then?

“You will never amount to anything.” In The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, you see the destructive power of a father in Denethor’s harshness toward his younger son, (Faramir) while praising his older son.  The idea, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” also comes across as a wound that is incurable to the soul. One child cannot be like another. They are their own selves with unique gifts and personalities. All through Scripture we also see how favoring one child above another causes family discord and even hatred between siblings. One example in Scripture is that of Joseph and his brothers. They were so jealous of their father’s special treatment that they sold their brother to slave traders! If we can learn from other’s mistakes, and treat each child as a unique but treasured gift, we do well and may save the soul of a child.

What can we say instead?  “I see so much potential in you! You have gifts and talents different from your brother and I look forward to seeing what God does in your life.”  Love believes all things.

“I wish you would just go away.” Sometimes it feels like our child or our children are the problem. Their needs can seem overwhelming. Exhausting. This is especially true if they have special needs we feel incapable of meeting. We may feel our own inadequacy so keenly that we lash out at them, as though they are purposefully denigrating us.

But through God, we can do all things. Though some children are more challenging, they are still precious to God, as are we. This is where we as parents and caregivers need to put our own inadequacy into the hands of our great God and Father and remind ourselves that He can use all things for our good. Even our weakness is a means to prove himself strong on our behalf.  It is true that sometimes we need a break. Take a walk or go out to dinner and have a few moments of normalcy to recover from the stress, leaving the child in the care of someone who is trustworthy. Our children should never have to bear the weight of our difficulties or feel responsible for us! We must be the adults.

Instead of dumping on the kids we need to let them see the love of Christ through us so they know their value. To wound one of these little ones who trust in him is a very serious matter. Remember, that no matter how young or old they are, our children have hearts that can be hurt just as ours can. We need to see them as our Lord does. Believe God for the strength and love that we need. Save the angst for prayer. He can handle it all.  We can be a blessing to our children this way, overcoming our own weakness in the process.

“You’re stupid. ”  Though my father never actually said those words, I felt it in his looks and impatience. If I couldn’t figure something out, he would give up on me. I did hear that kind of teasing from other kids and believed it, reinforcing my fears and insecurity. It made me afraid to try new things or ask a second question if I didn’t understand something. “There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Proverbs 12:18. If a child doesn’t know something they ought to know, this only means they need to be taught. It isn’t that they are stupid, but they have been deprived of knowledge. And that is easily fixed.

Foolishness is another matter entirely. It is choosing something harmful when you know better. For that, there can be discipline. But even discipline should be with a view toward bringing them back to wisdom – not a final verdict on their future.

“Ugh. Just look at you!”  Our culture is so appearance based that we can easily fall into this. We can think our children’s appearance is a reflection on us. But when they become old enough to make their own decisions about hair length or color, style of clothing, etc… we need to give them the grace that we give ourselves to choose what we like. Parents can often speak damaging words about a child or adult child’s worth in regard to their appearance. Perhaps they are overweight or have a physical flaw that we would fix if we were them. “Maybe you should get plastic surgery/have your teeth whitened/lose a few pounds/change your hair…”

If it were up to us, we would do that for ourselves. But respect and grace must be given when there isn’t a matter of sin. If you want a relationship with your children as they grow up, you have to let go of controlling their appearance. Very young children need guidance. Young adults need to be able to make these choices for themselves. If you don’t like it, keep your opinions to yourself unless you want to create a rift between you and them. Is it worth it to lose the person? If you have raised them with guidance, they already know what you prefer. It may be a test to see if you will accept them for their own choices, or perhaps they really prefer another style.

As children grow, they need more and more room to make the decisions that concern their own life and direction. As parents, we need to love them for who they are, give them the grace to grow, and keep our opinions between ourselves and God. God will give each of us the eyes to see what really matters and the ability to love them, as he does.